Monday, December 15, 2008

In Gravity's Rainbows. That's the Best I could Come Up With Given Short Notice. No please, don't fire me from Mad Magazine--" ...Oh, it was a dream..

“Hey bonita muchacha / Don't-cha know that I want-cha.”

Surprisingly, this is not the only embarrassingly white attempt at an ode to.. Mexican-ness or something from this year. But, I have to say, at least Jonathan Richman sings in Spanish and risks embarrassing himself, which is more than I can say for Brian Wilson (who just embarrasses himself unintentionally). That being said, “Good Kind of Love,” from That Lucky Old Sun, is probably one of my favorite songs of the year. Minor tip of the hat to Bri.

This is about 2008. But first, a flashback to 2002 or thereabouts:


Scene: A pale, palsied teenager with long hair (although it would look a lot better if he acquiesced and got it cut in layers, he insists on maintaining the image he has of himself in his head, something to do with Joey Ramone, I still don’t know) sits curled up on a couch, headphones in his ears and a CD player resting in his lap. Two albums sit stacked on the end table next to him. The CDs, you ask (wait, this is a screenplay, not a narrative)? End of the Century by the Ramones and II by the Meat Puppets. Cue comet flying overhead outside the window, a thousand years pass by, and still this moment is magic.

Satirical digressions aside, I feel like I need to place this block of text in some sort of biographical context. That moment actually was the beginning of me as I know myself now—to get a little too sentimental. I was raised without a passion for music, so I know it’s not biological; but, through my own efforts, I’ve made it the very stitching of my core being, etc. Feel free to let this paragraph continue for several more lines in your head, all this sincerity is exhausting.

The point, though, is that I like music. A lot. But until 2008, I never bothered to care about the cavalcade of new music that floods the market each year. There are literally hundreds of bands forming and falling apart every year, and most of them can only be found on the RSS feed of some tiny blog that you can’t even search for on Google. I didn’t listen to them all, but I tried to listen to a good portion of the North American bands with white members. That’s a joke, but I listened to maybe a handful of new rap albums this year, a handful of European punk bands with white members, and (flavor of the week) some compilations of African stuff. Music journalism is a joke, and so are these End of the Yr. lists, but with people like Sasha-Frere Jones insisting on racial binaries and using terms like “miscegenation” to describe music, it looks like respectability will be beyond our reach for a long time. Not that I’m a music journalist. I just like music, and I like to write. Gah, feel free to scroll down to the list if you haven't already--you're not missing much. I’ve listened so many bands this year, and I can only remember enough to come up with a handful of great albums from this year before having to scroll through my iTunes library and remember that one 7” that kind of sounded like the Ramones, I think, at first listen, six months ago. Seriously, with the exception of #1 on my list, I didn’t listen to any of these albums more than a handful of times. A lot of them I only listened to once or twice. But I will say this: At Least I Did Not Put Fleet Foxes On My List. That alone should give me a modicum of credibility.

Stuff of the Yr. in which this was written:

1. Howlin’ Rain – Magnificent Fiend
Sounds like Traffic.

2. Earth – The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull

3. Oneida – Preteen Weaponry
Oneida do Don Caballero. Is that even right? I don’t know, I thought of that comparison months ago and stashed it in some mental niche, and just now it popped out. Have to fill this space somehow.

4. Nomo – Ghost Rock
White guys doing afrobeat. So, basically Vampire Weekend. Ahah.

5. Goslings – Occasion
Pitchfork would probably say something like “shoegaze metal.”

6. The Howling Hex – Earth Junk

7. Jay Reatard – Matador Singles ‘08
Controversial, but I liked this collection better than the first singles collection.

8. Grails – Take Refuge in Clean Living
In the same vein as Sun City Girls, if you can appreciate music outside of a rock context. “Atmospheric post-rock with Middle-Eastern touches.” –something I would probably say if I were a professional reviewer.

9. Cloudland Canyon – Lie in Light
Kraut. “You & I,” another potential song for someone’s crappy 2008 mix CD that no one will listen to.

10. Arthur Russel – Love is Overtaking Me
Yeah, posthumous, but “Nobody Wants a Lonely Heart” is too moving not to be on this guy’s crappy list.

11. Pumice – Quo
New Zealand lo-fi. New Zealand rules.

12. Wooden Shjips – Vol. 1
Three compilations on this list? They all deserve it, though. Oh, this band is distorted psych. That really doesn’t tell you much. Musicians nowadays really are fond of extended jams clouded in distortion.

12. Shit and Shine – Cherry
“The Rabbit Song” is the apotheosis of cool stoner psychedelic kraut noise rock. Nice, a bunch of adjectives.

13. Blank Dogs – On Two Sides
I could do an entire list full of the noisy lo-fi punk/pop bands from this year, because there were a lot for whatever reason. Blank Dogs come out ahead of the pack, though.

14. Sapat – Mortise and Tenon
Hats off to Siltbreeze for putting out so many good albums this year. Tied with Not Not Fun for Best Label of the Year According to Pale Guy Writing From His MacBook.

15. Islaja – Blaze Mountain Recordings
Paavoharju never clicked with me, but I liked most of the other Fonal Records albums from this year. This one especially.

16. AFCGT – S/T CD-r
A Frames playing with the Climax Golden Twins. I previously described “Old Spy” and “Young Spy” as “noise-surf.” Stupid, but I need to write something in this space.

17. Pocahaunted – Island Diamonds
These girls released a lot of albums this year, and I only listened to a few. This was the best of them, though.

18. Boston Spaceships – Brown Submarine
Robert Pollard’s new band. I could’ve seen them in town, but I was busy with homework. Heard they were good.

19. Jonathan Richman – Because Her Beauty is Raw and Wild
Song about Vermeer.

20. Headache City – Headache City
“Tearjerker” would be near the top of the 2008 song list if I had the energy to make one. Sounds like Television.

Bands I forgot: Eat Skull, Jacuzzi Boys, Vivian Girls, Burning Star Core, Birchville Cat Motel, Four Tet, Blue Sabbath Black Cheer, Boris, Sic Alps, Cheveu, Children’s Hospital, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Silver Jews, Sparks, Wire (really, the last two I tried to like, but they were decidedly subpar albums, at least compared to those artists’ best albums. Which is an awful way to judge an album, but what are you going to do?), Mudhoney, Stereolab, Static Static, Kim Phuc, Stnnng, Valet, Grouper, Wavves, U.S. Girls, other people, etc.

I probably should’ve put this at the top of the article, but Note to Readers: don’t ever try and keep up with a year’s worth of albums, because it isn’t worth it. I feel very tired, and music is little consolation, despite what some people would tell you (the same people who put Fleet Foxes in their list, no doubt). Art is useless and Good Guys Sit On the Couch & Watch Frasier Re-runs While Assholes Get The Girl.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

36. The Hillbilly Avant-Garde

Don't have a bunch of my usual wacky horsedootz this time, just a few words about Henry Flynt. Found out about him through Alan Licht's Minimalism Top 10 lists (which has since become a Top 30, and can be found in, among other places, the Root Blog, for which there's a link farther down and on the right). Found out also that a whole passel of Flynt's stuff can be found on Locust Music and Ampersand Records, labels that anyone interested in good music should be interested in (full disclosure: Dawson Prater, the label head, used to live here and we used to play spades together, and once drunkenly offered to release a double album of my stand-up; the fact that I don't do stand-up is indicative of the aridity of Dawson's humor).

Henry Flynt is a backwoods avant-garde prankster and the two pieces I'm putting up, You Are My Everlovin' and Celestial Power, are epic fiddle ragas that make me wish I still did downers. This is all-night drive to Waco music, folks. The first pits his absolutely incredible fiddle against a classical Indian drone; the culture clash is only there if you put it there. The second piece's drone is even richer, mellow string stabs that end up sounding not unlike light saber practice drills. Flynt has a way of coaxing the most amazing high-string runs out of his fiddle that I have ever, ever heard, scattering notes like light through a prism. I can't do it justice; you just gotta hear it. Then go buy some shit from Dawson; he just had a kid and probably needs the scratch.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

35. The Country Western Robot Cries Again

It's a cold hard metal fact that the saddest sounding American instrument is the pedal steel, and the reason for this is simple: way back when we (you and I) were making America, steel guitars were strung with the tendons of unhappy dead people. This was in fact before steel had been discovered during a cave-in in Hazard County, West Virginia, which provided several more "redneck theremins." Technology and America remorselessly moving on, we no longer call this "country pleader" the pedal tendon. Another reason is that that is fuggin' gross, man.

It is another fact that everyone thinks about robots all the time. And why not? They're funny when they put on dresses and heroic when little itty-bitty ones saved Uncle Ferd after that botched Panamanian angioplasty. And it's also funny when someone refers to 'our robot overlords,' because it's better to laugh at the hideous truth than to cry.

And that's something robots don't do (cry). This simple statement is axiomatic to literally every piece of music made in England from 1979-1985 and gave us the non-Euclidean wonder of the Flock of Seagulls haircut. Robots cannot cry, for we have made them not as we are (see Ripley Scott's neat-o Vangelis video "Blade Runnings" for more on this) but as we wish we could be. We have made them stoic and without Gods and with laser eyes so they never need bottle openers.
But what would it be like if robots could, in fact, cry, wail, gnash their geary teeth? Well, it would probably sound like Pete Drake, the man who created the Talkbox. You have heard the Talkbox. Deep-sea worms have heard the Talkbox. Here's why: "Do You Feel Like I Do?" That's why. You heard that three times a day until you were allowed to pick the radio station, cause Dad still has one of those beerhats with the straws and a Peter Frampton shirt.

My point being, Pete Drake was a king-hell pedal steel player, and he invented the Talkbox. So take the keen of the pedal steel, and then pull it out of shape and have it sing at you.

'But I hate country!' I hear you say, and I am reminded yet again that you are a hideous little quasi-person. Listen: download these albums and if you don't like them, if they don't sound like literally nothing else you've ever heard, then I'll refund your costs. I'll refund the costs with my boot up your ass.

34. Please Hold (Ghana - High-Life and Other Popular Music [Saka Acquaye and His African Ensemble])

I am on hold. I am on hold, it is near freezing and I am waiting for Shane. I am waiting for Shane to arrive with the part. When the part comes, Shane will be with it and he will mount the part and then I will never see Shane again. I am on hold.

I called my own Company, the one I have worked for for twenty-six years, and I am on hold. I could call those years by number or letter, a through z. I try to think of people I know from a to z. Somewhere around d I give up. The music from hold is very pleasant. I don't know what it is.
When first I needed the part, I did not know what it was I needed. The first place I went to looked at me and said, "We don't have a computer. Engines, they need a computer. Why don't you go down the road and see Shane." Shane wasn't there, was sick. But his boss said "Let's see what the computer says." It said I needed a part. Shane's boss said "Let's see if we can't get Shane in here." That's why Shane is coming with the part. Thanks, Shane.

"Hold please." Why are you pleading with me. You are going to put me on hold anyway. You are perpetuating the illusion that we are having a dialogue here. You are perpetuating here the illusion that I had the choice to say "Yes I will hold thank you" or "No I would rather not hold if you please." You are perpetuating the illusion that if I had said "No I Would Rather Not Hold If You Please" then you would have done something different. We both know this not to be the case. I don't fault you, I am just saying.

Shane has been sick since last Wednesday. "What he's got I don't wanna get" said Shane's boss. But he's coming in to mount my part. Thank you Shane. You're a good man. I am assuming. Maybe you beat your wife. Maybe you eat sour cream out of the container and hit your wife. I don't know. I try not to judge. Based on the limited amount of information I have about you, Shane, I have to say it: you are a good man.

I would like a copy of this hold music. It is making my wait more pleasant. This wait is still not pleasant but the music makes it more so. My time on hold gives me the chance to reflect on my falling standing at the Company. I would never have been put on hold before Keller. Before Keller I was golden. That was twenty-five years ago. Twenty-five years ago my calls go straight to the top. Since Keller my calls take the scenic route. Since Keller I have become a connoisseur of hold music. Since Keller I have become a hold music gourmand. This is good hold music. It might be the best. When Shane comes I shall recommend it to him. We will see what happens.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

33. Roots Manuva- Brand New Second Hand

Get me some jerk chicken. These beans on toast just aren't cutting it any more. I've been slogging it out in this goddamn charnel house for 8 long years and haven't had one damn meal that tiny tim wouldn't turn his nose up at. I'm about to hulk out here. Or at least to threaten to hulk out and maybe slam down some dockets in the in tray quite hard.

Everyone here hates me anyway, I see how Luke casts his eyes to the left whenever he sees me and starts throwing hudu at me like it was on clearance. And they think that i didn't see that fetishised sparrow skull in my drawer. Took a damn month of good deeds to wipe that shit clean. I should just let these hillbilly fucks rot, I'd like to see how many hexes they could get cleared in a month when no one is doing the paperwork for them, since their combined reading comprehension level is about 3rd grade.

I mean I can deal with never getting invited to their bowling night, I can deal with correcting all the spelling errors in their ridiculous pamphlets, I can even tolerate Lukumi bowling in here every whitsun to raise a storm over our cleansings and making a bloody mess of my filing cabinets. What I can't take is a 'culture' that thinks that pig intestines make for good eating. Send me back to Brixton and get me some jerk chicken, I'm wasting away out here.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

32. The Appman Reviews: Kanye West - "808's and Heartbreak"

There are few albums on this accursed Terra that truly vex me, but I knew another was on the way. The fools chorus that sings the praises of OK Computer, Dude Ranch, and others of their ilk. Jeremy playing Adam's Song on repeat, telling me, "Matt, this is just the greatest song." Nay, Jeremy. Nay. I could feel the bile climb up my throat, scaling with the hooks and chains of hatred that usually only arise when I have to talk to the idiots in my Poli Sci 303 discussion group. They don't know anything about the effects of capitalism. Just wait until the bodies of those it hurts wash up on their shores. Then they'll fucking know.

But then through Mandy's livejournal post I was directed to the album 808's and Heartbreak by Mr. Kanye West. She told me that I should check it out (Heh. She doesn't know me at all!). Let's be clear: the only "heartbreak" I felt was on account of wasting my precious time on queuing it up in Azureus next to the Batman Annual. The vocal masturbation of Mr. West is palpable, "borrowing" from too many artists that will never see the light of day because he is clogging the drains with his incessantly abhorrent and frankly annoying melodies. I have major issues with this album, Mandy. Mayhaps if he took off those ridiculous sunglasses he could see the problems of poor structure in "Say You Will" (Six minutes of choral samples? Heh, what does Kanye think this is: Castlevania?), or the gimmicky hooks of "Love Lockdown". "Heartless", another single off the album, just reeks of vocal synthesizers, a crutch of the modern musician. Do you think They Might Be Giants just flipped a couple switches when they sometimes messed up their wonderful vocals? Never. They just went back and did it again.

And how dare he besmirch the auteur Paul Verhoeven by naming a song "RoboCop". You aren't fit to mention a movie of his, let alone form the basis of a song around a seminal film. It just enrages me when artists like him just toss around the apexes of culture to just get tweenagers to pluck their album off the Wal-Mart shelf, a true Commedia dell'arte. I can't even look at this Zip file anymore, makes me sweat at the thought. I'm sorry, Mandy. I'm sorry. But my opinions are paramount, and I cannot remain tightlipped about this. Please don't be angry with me. Please. You're all I have.

31. Denki Groove - Voxxx

Denki Groove are most widely known of for being remixed by Paul Van Dyk on Vorsprung Dyk Technik (for the uninitiated you might think of his work as trance, only not crap). Their connection to that genre is only tangential though, as the body of their work is a 20 year slide from electro-pop to techno. Personally they are notable for being played in clubs at the time in my life all 14 year old boys go through, when you realise that that wispy moustache does not make you look older, and that shaving it will give you a chance of getting into clubs.

The group's mainstay is Takkyu Ishino (you know you are listening to some hardcore underground scene music when the artist doesn't even have a wikipedia page). Notable mainly for closing out the 98 Berlin Love Parade with a crowd of 1.5 million goddamn people, Ishino's solo catalogue is also well worth looking through if you are into that beepy boopy kind of affair.

The band permit me the dangerous fantasy that I can dance, until I catch sight of myself and realise that I'm whiter than the right honourable Jim Hacker channelling Churchill. Once I've gotten over my Chris Langham levels of shame though the music once more frees me to a level of elation unknown since I was 7 years old, decked out in pyjamas and dancing to remember you're a womble. So come along, regress with me.

30. Logorrhea in Command (Crazy Wisdom Masters - The Payback EP)


29. Two Stories and an Aborted Joke Featuring Yi Yi Thant (White Elephants and Golden Ducks/ Princess Nicotine)

Yi Yi Thant, vocalist from the walled nation of Myanmar (formerly known in the west as Burma), stood next to her rented car. Either steam or smoke was pouring from the hood, she wasn't going to get close enough to tell the difference. Well, at least she broke down close to civilization. Such as they call it round here. What the hell am I doing in this place, she thought. The sun quivered at the tree tops, miles away.
"It was going just fine and then it started making this horrible noise and then it did this." She mimed being jerked forward three times, her face still serene, eyes closed. The mechanic nodded. "Well, worst case is yer timin chain. Which case ain't much I nor no-one else can do for yuh othern lend you a yellow pages. But I think it may be your plugs. Whyncha go on over to my pa's place next door, they got a rhubarb pie what kin't by beat not by a mile."
It suddenly occured to me that this joke, which hinges on a penguin messily eating an ice cream sundae, wouldn't really work with Yi Yi Thant as the protagonist because not only does she have hands, she also has opposable thumbs and she eats with utensils like anyone else.

Yi Yi Thant, blessed with a voice that sounded like gold leaf lazily peeled from an angel's halo and floating down to Earth, looked grim.
"I don't think... said Murph.
"You keep doing that," snapped Thant. Her jewelry shifted with the sound of wet pebbles where her silk robe had sweated through.
The Lookout still stood. Smoke curled from its sensory array.
"Fuck this," muttered Murph and he stood up. "Don't" said Thant but she didn't finish because Murph became a crimson cloud from the waist up, blown to shit by the Lookout's gatling-gauss. His legs did a pratfall on his ass. Is that still his ass?, Thant thought.
There was a hollow clicking sound as the timed explosive arrow Thant had shot caught, and the Lookout exploded, crumbling slowly at first and then with increasing speed directly down, like the earth swallowing it whole.
Thant brushed a lock of raven hair from her eye. She thought that if this was a movie she would say something snappy here, but it wasn't, it was war.

It was another hot day in a string of hot days that I knew I was genetically incapable of ever getting used to. It felt like my chromosomes were sweating. I had taken to bringing a box of cornstarch with me wherever I went when I was here, and excusing myself at intervals and sprinkling some on my chapped and swampy crotch. Consequently last week I caught myself in my room's full-length mirror one day and I thought I looked like I had been snorting cocaine through my cock.
I got to the city and that was most of it right there. Here's how much money I had left: three hundred forty four dollars. That would get me a pretty good hotel room here for as long as I needed, plus one night a week of hokily acrobatic yodelling with one of the locals. It wouldn't buy me a ticket home from Burma, but after a week or ten days I found myself thinking about it less and less, getting to like it, then love it. The heat, though, kept reminding me that I wasn't from here. That and the cornstarch gravy I kept making with my taint.
There were a lot of things I wanted to ask her. How it felt to be the archetypical songbird in a gilded cage, almost unheard outside of Myanmar. Was she frightened. Did she think of it. Did she ever wonder how it would be, living in the free world. The millions she would make with her voice. I had all these questions written down on hotel stationary, provided by the sincerely smiling clerk. When you are such a powerful symbol, do you feel it. Did it change how she felt. How did she feel knowing that she
The phone book was open on the desk, and for the next two hours here in the city the phone would work. Again, I ran my finger down the page of curled script to the number; again, I dialed; again, Yi Yi Thant answered the phone.
"Min gar la bar?", she said
Again, I put the phone on the desk and closed my eyes, listening.
"Min gar la bar?", she said.